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The other day my sister sent me an article from the New York Times with the title "How to Raise A Creative Child. Step One: Back Off". Oh man, before I even clicked the link I was feeling hot under the collar. My baby is six months old, I hardly need to back off.
I thought my sister was trying to send me a mean message about my baby bragging. Then I read the article. It was mostly about how child prodigies don't end up becoming innovators because they have too much structure and too many rules to ever achieve true creativity.
By total coincidence, my husband was watching this show called "Child Genius" on Lifetime that very same day. The show is a competition sponsored by Mensa and the kids compete for $100,000 and the title of "Child Genius." These children are true geniuses and I found the show truly terrifying. The kids on the show are amazingly smart and talented. They seem to love learning but their parents look like total nightmares to me. Watching those kids and their parents interact made me never want to push my son to do anything in life, ever.
The children compete against each other and contestants are eliminated every week. I've watched my fair share of reality shows but something about "Child Genius" rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps it was because when one of the contestants couldn't answer the questions he ran off the stage crying. In fact there is kind of a lot of crying on the show. But if you want to make your child into a genius, here are some of the tips from the show that I will never do, no matter how smart my kid turns out to be.
1. Feed him a strict Paleo diet. Homeschool him (but call it "un-school") not just because he's a genius, but also to to control what he eats.
2.Reward him for studying with candy and soda even though you realize he has gotten quite chubby. Just keep dumping soda and donut holes down his throat to give him energy for studying.
3. Make him practice playing the piano until his hands hurt. When he tells you they hurt, tell him to keep practicing.
4. Don't allow him to use the bathroom until he gets all the answers right during study sessions.
5. Don't be worried that he's upset at losing. Be upset that he's losing and make sure you tell him in no uncertain terms how upset you are.
Some of those kids clearly enjoy the academic competition but personally, I never want to see my son calling himself a failure or threatening to jump off a balcony because he's so distraught at losing.
6. Tell him he looks so nervous and weird like he's going to the electric chair during competitions. This will surely help him relax.
7. Make him keep studying even though he has run away and he is hiding in a closet reading a book that is only for pleasure.
8. Tell him he's not smart and that he needs to work harder.
9. Be disappointed if he gets anything less than an A+.
10. Make sure to let him know anything less than perfect is unacceptable.
Having a child with a special gift is an awesome responsibility. I'm sure these parents think pushing their children is what's best for them and who am I to tell them how to raise their kids? They put their kids on television, however, which obviously leaves them open to public scrutiny. So I'm scrutinizing and I've come to the conclusion that they should back off. But since I have nothing to do with how they are raising their children, I'm going to let them be a cautionary tale for our family. If he turns out to be not so smart, hey, that's okay. At least I won't get embarrassed when he's totally smarter than me.
My son will pursue whatever interests he wants. I'm going to encourage him to follow his dreams. Most parents want what's best for their child and the parents on "Child Genius" are no different. Some of those kids clearly enjoy the academic competition but personally, I never want to see my son calling himself a failure or threatening to jump off a balcony because he's so distraught at losing.
I never want him to fear disappointing us so much that it drives him to wall punching rage. I'm new at this mom gig thing and I know we often end up doing or becoming the thing we said we never would, but I really hope I don't turn into a pushy parent that stifles my son's creativity. I'll follow up in about 30 years and let you know how it went.